Utah has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest rate of melanoma in the nation—a rate more than double the national average. In fact, Summit County has a startling rate of over 70 cases for every 100,000 people.
Despite increased public awareness, the most recent data shows that Utah’s melanoma rate has continued to rise steadily every year, more than doubling in the past 17 years, from 20 to 42 cases for every 100,000 people, according to the Utah Department of Health and the Utah Cancer Registry.
Why is the Melanoma Rate So High in Utah?
Besides being a state with a majority of residents whose fair skin is a risk for melanoma, health officials think the high melanoma rate could be related to Utahns outdoor lifestyles. Why? It’s related to the rays, according to Dr. Tawnya Bowles, MD, an oncology surgeon with Intermountain Healthcare.
There are two types of ultraviolet rays that penetrate Earth’s atmosphere and reach your skin: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).
“UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn. The intensity varies by time, season, and location, but the most significant amount of UVB hits the U.S. between 10 am. and 4 pm from April to October. However, UVB rays can burn and damage your skin year-round, especially at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice, which bounce back up to 80 percent of the rays, so that they hit the skin twice,” said Dr. Bowles.
UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin and are responsible for skin aging and increase your risk of melanoma. UVA rays are present with relatively equal intensity year-round during daylight hours. Unlike UVB rays, they can penetrate clouds and fog, said Dr. Bowles.
Overall, the sun’s UV rays are more intense at higher elevations. At 10,000 feet, you’re 70 % more exposed to UV rays than at sea level.
Melanoma is the Deadliest Skin Cancer
Melanoma cancer accounts for about 1% of all skin cancer cases, but the vast majority of skin cancer deaths. Although melanoma occurs most often on the skin, it can develop in the eye or the lining of the nose, mouth, or genitals.
Melanoma Affects People of All Ages
Melanoma is the third most common cancer among women aged 20-39 years and the second most common cancer in men aged 20-39 years. In the US, melanoma is currently the fifth most common cancer in men and the sixth most common in women of all age groups
A Growing Concern
- The increase of melanoma has risen rapidly over the past 30 years.
- From 2004 to 2013, the rate increased by 2% to 3% per year among men and women ages 50 and older.
- However, it did stabilize among men and women younger than age 50.
Treatment and Survival
- Treatments are available for all people with melanoma.
- Melanoma can quickly spread to other parts of the body, so it is important to detect and treat melanoma in its earliest stages.
- When melanoma is detected and treated in its early stages, the chances for long-term, disease-free survival are excellent.
- For localized melanoma (84% of all cases), the 5-year survival rate is approximately 99%.
Prevention: Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Skin Cancer
- Establish an easy, daily sun protection regimen you can follow all year long.
- Apply sunscreen each morning and reapply every two hours. In addition to daily sunscreen use, you should cover up with clothing, broad-brimmed hats, and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- Continue using sunscreen during the winter and on cloudy days.
- Both UVA and UVB rays play a role in the development of melanoma—and the rays can be just as powerful in winter or through clouds as they are on a sunny summer day.
- Make sun protection a daily habit, no matter the season and weather.
- Do not let your skin burn. On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns. It’s important to take the time and effort to prevent sunburns in the first place. Protect your skin.
- Check your skin. It is recommended that adults over the age of 18 see a dermatologist once a year for a full skin exam. Adults should also perform monthly self-exams, looking for new or changing moles or lesions that should be examined by a healthcare provider.
- No cancer, including melanoma, can ever be prevented with 100% certainty. Some risk factors for melanoma, such as skin type and family history, cannot be changed. Sometimes melanoma may develop despite your best efforts to prevent it.
“The good news is that the risk factors for melanoma are well known,” said Dr. Bowles. “Since the primary risk factor for melanoma is exposure to ultraviolet radiation, learning how you can protect yourself from UV radiation can help you reduce your risk of melanoma.”